Monday, July 16, 2007

a birthday degustation: course eight

The eighth course of our recently prepared chef's degustation and wine tasting was the "salad course." Given the length of the meal, our chef wanted to serve a light and refreshing salad-- something non-traditional to re-awaken the palate and prepare our guests for cheese and dessert courses. Staying true to our culinary aesthetic and vision for this degustation, we selected local heirloom tomatoes as the focal point for this delicious and beautiful plate.

Heirloom tomatoes are tomato plants that have traditionally not been cross-bred or made into hybrids. While there is debate on the definition, general agreement suggests that the seeds of a tomato need be at least 50 years old (with some experts suggesting a more restrictive 100 years) to be considered a true heirloom. These tomatoes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors-- most with very interesting and "non-commercial" appearances compared to the glossy red and round tomatoes found in most supermarkets. They generally have tastes ranging from smooth and sweet to hard and sour.

Beginning at the base, we plated a coulis of fresh local plum tomato "tartare," surrounded by freshly infused basil oil. In the center of the "tartare," we placed a crisp brioche crouton, which was topped with peeled and chilled petite gold, red, and green summer tomatoes tossed in olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Dividing the layers of tomatoes was a Parmesan and garlic tuile, adding a deep flavor and crisp texture.

Sitting gloriously atop the tomato "salad" was the crowing achievement of this particular course-- an heirloom tomato sorbet. The sorbet was created from a blend of four types of local heirloom tomatoes-- the Big Rainbow (yellow fleshed), the Brandywine (pink-red fleshed), the Green Zebra (green fleshed) and the Jubilee (golden fleshed). Together, they created a delightful orange-coloured sorbet, sweetened naturally by the sugar in the tomatoes, and infused with basil and thyme. As the sorbet melted, it created a deliciously cool and sweet "dressing" for the salad, enjoyed by all.

Finally, sitting on top of the sorbet was a piece of "tomato paper"-- another foray into the world of molecular gastronomy. In this case, peeled, seeded, and chopped tomato flesh is slowly dehydrated until is creates a thin and flexible tomato-scented "paper." It was the perfect topper for our heirloom tomato showpiece!

Having completed the savory portions of our meal, we next turn our attention to plated cheese courses, desserts, and mignardises. You don't want to miss the sweet endings to our chef's degustation and wine taste!

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